I was on a shoot in Lisbon when my friend sent me the message.
“Babe. I can get us a deal on a holiday to a Greek island but we need to book it today. You in?”
I had just been sprayed in the face with water in the hope that I would look sweaty enough for the company representatives to give us the thumbs up to shoot my scene.
“Do her armpits too. And her hair.”
After dousing my top half in water I still wasn’t quite hideous enough and the director had started sweating profusely himself, as precious time and daylight ticked by. Eventually a resourceful make up artist whipped out a jar of glycerine and smeared my face, arms, chest and hair with it. They marched me back to the huddle of suits sat behind the monitor for inspection.
“Ok. This is good.” One confirmed, as a fly attached itself to my cheek.
As they adjusted the lights for maximum sweaty shine, I grabbed my phone.
It transpired later that some details about the trip had been omitted. Flights were not included, it would take a total of twenty hours to get to the remote island, oh, and we’d just signed up for their first ever yoga convention.
But the deposit had been paid and so, a few weeks later, I found myself on a boat in the Aegean Sea, with my bestie Angela by my side. We wrote enthusiastically in our new journal about the eventful last six hours and made light work of the baked goods we’d nabbed at the bakery by the port. But the novelty soon wore off. As night fell and the waves rolled, we tossed and turned in our seats as every hour another stop at another island was announced that wasn’t our island.
By the time we arrived it was almost 2 a.m and I was so grumpy that Angela gave me a wide berth. I was convinced that nothing was worth such an exhausting, long trip. I was already over it and as our coach filled with wholesome looking yogis, who looked like they ate nothing but organic kale foam and chickpea foreskin and never had a grumpy day in their enlightened life, I was sure I was in hell.
When we arrived at the hotel, I headed straight to bed, putting an end to what felt like the longest day of my life.
In the morning I crept out of bed and opened the doors to our balcony. As the Mediterranean sun poured into our room, I was momentarily blinded. But as my eyes adjusted, the most incredible view lay before me. A stunning bay of sandy beaches framed by majestic mountains and pristine, white and blue villages overlooking a sea that sparkled with a thousand diamonds. And that blue. God that blue. There is nothing that quite compares with the shade of the Med.
On our pillows the event organiser had left a smoky quartz crystal as a welcome gift, mined from the rich mountainside of the island itself, with a note to explain its powers. We had a welcome pack with plenty of freebies so my inner South London hustler was mighty pleased.
I was beginning to believe that perhaps the gruelling journey was worth it. As Angela got up, she was relieved to see my grump had passed and she visibly relaxed. But there was still a hotel full of yogis to deal with.
We made our way to breakfast. I kept my sunglasses on in the hope it would put off anyone too enthusiastic, but had to take them off to fully take in the spread they’d laid out. A buffet of every possible food we could desire lay before us and I made a bee-line for the local fruit, honey and olives. There were coffees and teas, as well as fresh mountain sage, picked locally and dried in the sun, for an extra special morning beverage.
I was almost cheerful, and as others joined us, I was pleasantly surprised to note that they had come from all over the world and many had quite a witty sense of humour for vegans.
After breakfast, the welcome speeches began and the organiser of the whole event, a tattooed northerner called Matt, took to the stage. He had collected the quartz crystals himself and seemed an unlikely character to be running a yoga convention. I was intrigued, and when we met in person later he gave me a warm hug and promised to sit with me later and tell me his story.
The owner of the hotel, a dynamic woman called Irene, took to the stage next and gave us an insightful talk about the history, ecology and culture of the island.
The schedule was packed with a variety of experiences – many were different forms of yoga taught by teachers from around the world, but there were also meditation workshops, massage and aromatherapy classes, shamanic sound and even a goddess dance experience. I signed up for them all and then spent much of the weekend lying by the pool instead.
But the classes I did attend were impressive. Some of my favourites were a “Juicy Yoga Vinyasa” which finished with the teacher playing a Mariah Carey song, much to my delight, a Yin Yoga class with aromatherapy oils and singing, and a Shamanic Sound workshop that was so powerful it seemed to shake up and reassemble my very cells into a healthier, more dynamic Me. I was often the dunce of the class, and it was not unknown for me to rock up late with a bacon buttie hanging out of my mouth and my mobile phone strapped to my face, but I was received warmly and adjusted regularly.
We were given a talk on the philosophy and values that form the basis of Yogic life, and much was made of being cautious around our electronic devices and time spent on social media. That said, I was confused when around 6pm everyone seemed to disappear. By the third day, I discovered a rooftop that overlooked the setting sun and a frantic scene of yogis in a variety of impossible poses barking orders as they pointed mobile phones at each other and snapped repeatedly, managing to check, filter and post on Instagram whilst still standing on their heads. One woman had failed to co opt anyone into taking shots for her and so had set up a voice-activated camera on her phone instead. “Shoot!” she shouted, “SHOOT!” in an increasingly aggressive tone, whilst balancing on one hand in a bikini and pouting at the same time. It was intense.
“Our biggest mistake is that we walk around thinking we are the cell phone,” explained one teacher from L.A. “But the transformation comes when you realise you’re not the cell phone – you are the signal.”
At lunch one day someone asked the bemused waitress if the fish was gluten free and another exclaimed with delight that aubergines were her “spirit vegetable”.
We spoke in detail one night with a woman who swore that the key to eternal youth was period facials.
Yogis are weird people who bend in ways that the Good Lord never intended us to do and break out into spontaneous Omming with very little encouragement. But despite all this, I found my cynicism begin to evaporate, because Matt – the elusive tattooed Northerner – had managed to gather a group of the most loving, genuinely kind and funny people from across the world for this brand new event.
I knew I had finally crossed over to the Light Side when I found myself with a crystal pyramid hanging over my head and crying like a baby. Steven from Oklahoma had been wandering around the convention offering free guided meditations with his crystal pyramid to anyone who might fancy one. I had avoided this dodgy hippie for most of the convention, but one day, having woken up too late to join any of the morning classes, I found myself face to face with The Pyramid Man. So I sat in a chair has he gently explained to me the type of crystal his device was made of and that the dimensions matched the pyramids in Egypt and Mexico. As he lowered it over my head and began to gently hit it with a stick, I thought of my loved ones back in South London and just how many of them would disown me if they could see me now. I tried to stifle my giggles as the gonging continued. Then he started to speak. His words were so loving and kind that I had to suppress the urge to open an eye just to check it was a grown man saying them. He ended it all with a simple “I love you” and he really meant it. If I’m honest it was hard to fully take in such a pure expression of love and I know I stumbled over my words and feet as I thanked him and headed back out into the world a bit lighter, a bit more loved.
As if all that wasn’t enough, we had free use of the sauna and steam room too, so I found myself one evening sharing a bench with a few yogis, one of whom started scrubbing my limbs with special island soap. I was quick to inform him that that was a breach of my boundaries and he immediately stopped, although he looked a bit confused. Angela quietly explained that mutual scrubbing comes with the Yogi territory, so after a moment’s consideration, I informed him that he was welcome to continue scrubbing me as long as he didn’t expect me to reciprocate. Thus both mind and body were thoroughly exfoliated and my boundaries remained unbreached.
Every now and then I’d bump into Matt who would give me a big hug and stuff another crystal into my hand saying “I must tell you my story…” as he rushed off to facilitate another event.
I was relieved when we left the resort and were taken on an excursion to explore the rest of the island. Irene and her family were a wealth of knowledge and the perfect guides to our four-hour hike through the flower drenched mountains from one village to another. We visited monasteries carved into impossible cliffsides and met a nun called Eirini who was one of the purest, kindest souls I’ve been in the presence of. I seriously considered sacking it all in and coming to live with her just to see what it’s like being around someone that full of love.
My pride at my Greek heritage grew as I spoke to the locals and ordered Greek coffees for my new mates. We picked wild herbs off the mountainside and dried them in the sun for extra “prana”.
And yes – I started using the word “prana” in sentences.
By the end of the week it was clear that there was no saving me. I had embraced my inner Goddess, bought a Circle Of Life Ring, let myself be exfoliated and loved by mere acquaintances and Ommed like I really meant it. And I did.
As we made our way back on the eight-hour boat ride it was clear early on that we wouldn’t get any rest. Our friend Abby had rented a cabin and invited us to share it with her, but as we made our way to her, we were accosted by a boat-load of new friends. By the time we had finished sharing coffees, music and Instagram accounts, we were back in Athens. The flight home was a messy blur of singing, reminiscing and giggling, as Angela and I were the perfect mix of exhausted and high off a week of wholesome island living. By the time we reached London we had perfected impressions of our favourite yogis, written the highlights in our journal and formed a band.
It dawned on us all in the ensuing weeks that we had been part of something very special. The last year and a half has felt to many of us like a very bad dream. The witnessing of the rise of the darkest in humanity has us feeling numbed and impotent. I’m not sure how aware our Matt was of what he was assembling, but the gathering of a group of people so dedicated to the goodness in life, so full of wisdom, generosity and downright bloody kindness was a bit of a shock to the old system in the best way possible. It left us all recharged, reconnected and hopeful.
I never got to hear Matt’s story, but when I got home I had a bag full of crystals and dried sage that summed him up pretty well.